A protest was held on Tuesday outside the Oxford Union after the revelation that the speaker for the evening would be the Israeli Ambassador, Daniel Taub.
Until recently the event was officially shrouded in secrecy, with the Union’s termcard announcing only that a “high profile speaker on the conflict in Gaza as well as other issues in the Middle East” was to attend, claiming that the secrecy was due to “security restrictions”.
It is thought that around 100 people attended a protest organized outside the Union on the same day as the talk. Activists said in a statement, “Just a few months ago, Israel pounded Gaza with the most modern military hardware in the world. Their bombardment of a besieged civilian population with nowhere to escape killed 2,200 Palestinians, including 490 children […] The protest welcomes all those who stand in solidarity with the besieged and occupied Palestinian people.”
Some students condemned the decision to invite Taub. Wadhamite and member of the Oxford Students’ Palestine Society Barnaby Raine commented, “After Israel killed 490 children in Gaza just a few months ago, its representative in Britain is on a propaganda offensive; fresh from addressing the Cambridge Union, he is coming to the Oxford Union.
“The servant of such a state should not be given the respect and honour of this prestigious platform — just think how Palestinian students in Oxford feel when the state that bulldozes their homes and destroys their infrastructure turns up on their campus too. We will be protesting outside the Oxford Union to send the message that we reject as unacceptable the violence Daniel Taub represents.”
Meanwhile, Wadham student Aliya Yule who attended the protests commented, “I was at the protest to show that Oxford will not welcome those complicit in war crimes, nor will we allow the Union to legitimise Israel’s occupation of Palestine under the guise of ‘free speech’.”
However former President of the now disbanded Oxford Israel Society Richard Black told Cherwell, “I am appalled at these protests. Ambassador Taub is a very respected and prestigious speaker who has come to the Union, a bastion of free speech. Many open minded people are keen to hear what he has to say.”
The Oxford Union commented in a statement issued before the event, “The Union has invited him to speak, and he will speak. The Union doesn’t endorse anyone — we invite people who have something interesting to say.
One Brasenose finalist and pro-Israel advocate agreed, remarking, “The Oxford student community is very lucky to have the opportunity to host such an eloquent and renowned diplomat. It’s a shame that the protesters would rather scream in the cold than listen to what Ambassador Taub has to say. This irrational antagonism betrays a somewhat close-minded unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue with anyone who has a different opinion.”
“The purpose of The Union is to allow freedom of speech. This is a man who speaks almost every night of the year, and we think that our members are looking forward to meeting him in person.”
Others defended the Union’s decision to give Taub the opportunity to speak without taking a stance on the conflict. Matt Rose, President of the Oxford Jewish Society, said, “Whilst Jsoc is an apolitical society and thus has no official view on Israeli policy, we encourage debate and hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We encourage those that disagree with him to go and debate with him in a constructive manner.”
However protesters responded, “The official Israeli positions are not under threat of being not heard, but the voices of their Palestinian victims are, and we hope to amplify them.”
This is not the first time that there has been controversy over Israel in Oxford. This summer a ‘Free Palestine’ march attracted around 200 people. A memorial vigil later followed in support of Hassan Al Hallaq, an ex-Brookes student whose family died in an Israeli air strike in July.
Taub has served as the Israeli Ambassador to the UK since 2011. Prior to holding this position, he was heavily involved in the Israel-Palestine peace process as Principal Deputy Legal Advisor of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, acting as legal advisor to Israel’s missions to the UN. His visit to Oxford follows a talk at the Cambridge Union last week, during which there was also a protest organized by students.
Speaking to Cherwell, Ambassador Taub commented, “I think it is incredibly sad that in a university which should thrive on the exchange of ideas, we have a group of people who are saying ‘we’re not interested in ideas and, in fact we are trying to shut them down channels of communication’.
“In the Middle East, we have a surfeit of negative energy, I hope that from a university like Oxford, we can actually model constructive dialogue and send some positive energy to the region.”